A big head and cavernous mouth. The eye is high on the head for both upward and downward vision, each eye working independent to the other. The upper jaw protrudes over the lower which has a "feeler" or "Barbel" which detects food buried in the sand.
The lateral line takes a gentle upward curve over the pectoral fin, but then carries in a straight line through to the tail fin. There are three separate dorsal fins along the upper back, with two anal fins. Body shape is broad at the head, then tapers quickly to the tail.
Undergoes varied colour swings from light yellow/brown over sand, greyish yellow and green when over shingle, and a maroon red over rocks. Some fish carry a camouflage mottled effect when working varied ground. The lateral line is creamy white and the belly white.
Two nice Scottish cod
Shore caught cod can very from a few ounces to fish over 30lbs, and occasionally exceed 40lbs. Pirks fished over the wrecks and off deep water rock marks can account for 50lb plus fish. Shore fish and boat fish average between 1.5lbs and 6lbs. Most seasons produce larger double figure fish off the shore, and 20lbers from the boats. Each year commercial catches include fish over 70lbs, including recent ones from the Bristol Channel, the English Channel and Irish Sea.
From January to late March coinciding with the lowest sea temperatures of the year. A female cod can lay anything up to 5,000,000 eggs annually. The young cod hatch in the early spring and reach 4-6in in their first year. In the second year they attain 14-16in and 1.5 lbs in weight. growth accelerates in the third year reaching between 4 and 6lbs with approximately 20% become sexually mature. Most fish reach maturity when weighing 7-10lbs in their 4th year. Cod can be expected to add on roughly 4lbs per year, but extreme cases can double this.
Right around the British Isles, with notable stocks in the North Sea, Irish Sea and the northern end of the English Channel. Common along the Irish Coast, especially the east coast north of Arklow. Rarely found south of Latitude 40'. The Atlantic cod penetrates north into the Barents Sea off Russia, right along the Arctic Ridge, off the southern tip of Greenland, Newfoundland and the north-east American coast.
Happy living over most seabeds including clean sand, shingle, mixed mud and sand, rough ground, reefs and wrecks. Smaller codling will also penetrate deep into our larger estuaries and are not affected by some freshwater content. Bigger fish tend to prefer areas of rougher ground where the food supply is greater.
First year codling live on shrimps, but after that quickly revert to worms, shellfish, crabs, small fish etc. Adult fish eat crabs, worms, larger fish like whiting, pouting, flatfish, sprats, poor cod and even small codling, in fact just about anything edible it comes across.
In the Northeast of England and throughout Scotland, cod ling are available all months of the year. The rest of Britain has to wait until the end of September before their first fish start to appear. An exception is the Bristol Channel, especially South Wales where codling show off Magor and Redwick as early as late August. The Bristol Channels huge tides maintain a high level of food in the upper reaches of the estuary which encourages the codling inshore.
The main run of cod generally appear in late October, numbers peak in late November and early December. Past records confirm that the best time to try for a real biggie is late December and throughout January and February prior to the big fish moving offshore to spawn. A spring run occurs along the East Anglian coast and south-east starting in March and dying away by mid May.
MARKS AND SEABED FEATURE
SHALLOW SURF BEACHES
It tends to be the smaller codling up to 5lbs that show over the clean, shallow sandy beaches, and the fish often come in short bursts with their overall numbers limited.
You're looking to cast your baits accurately in to the gullies running parallel along the beach which the fish follow as the tide floods and ebbs. Take special note of deeper depressions in line with the tide where food will collect. Other good spots to try are the ends of wooden and stone groynes, the edges of fingers of rock facing directly out to sea, and near to sewer outlets.
The best cod anglers always search out a place that lets them cast on to areas of boulders, kelp and rock on an otherwise featureless beach. These areas will hold the attention of the passing cod and they'll feed hard until the food supply is exhausted. Often, these areas are only within casting range around the low water mark.
STEEP TO BEACHES
These are the beaches where you have a good depth of water fairly close in. Dungeness in Kent is the most famous, also Chesil in Dorset. These produce their best catches either during, or immediately after heavy storms when a single large wave comes pounding in from the sea.
Heavy wave and tidal action scours large amounts of food from the seabed which gets washed inshore, this collecting along the junction between sand and shingle at the beach's base. It's here where the cod congregate, though they can also stay further out at extreme casting range if the food gets lodged amongst boulders or depressions and gullies in the sand.
ROUGH GROUND FISHING
It's a little like beach fishing with the angler trying to r ead the beach and find the deeper parts where the lateral running tide will deposit food.
Fish close to little reefs that run inshore, amongst rougher patches of bigger boulders, around the ends of rock fingers that push farther seaward, and especially in to deeper gutters and gullies that run inshore.
Rough seas and big tides still give better fishing, but it's not as critical as when open beach fishing.
Also try the ends of rocky headlands that jut out to sea where a tide race forms. Again, food gets washed through here which will hold the cod.
Fish the main channels of major estuaries, especially around seed mussel beds. Never neglect piers, man made breakwaters and other structures pushing out in to the tide which cod will always follow in working close to the structure itself searching out crabs etc.
The biggest spring tides falling twice each monthly cycle always provide the best of the action. Try to fish hardest on the tides rising towards the peak spring. Cod can still be taken as the tides drop back after the peak, but the results are not as good. Neap tides can produce cod, but rarely from the shallow marks. If you must fish neap tides, try to go for deeper water over rough ground.
Cod like it rough! Use the BBC weather charts to pick out deep depressions moving in from the Atlantic bringing in gales. On the west coast, it's the south, south west and westerly winds that give the best fishing, but on the east coast the north-west, north and north easterly winds are the ones to go out on.
A big swell and pounding surfs are the ideal cond itions, but cod tend to stay just behind the surf tables in the deeper water and it needs a good cast to reach them at times on the shallower marks. They prefer coloured water and move close inshore with the cover of darkness. Even in heavily coloured water, daylight cod fishing is never as good as that experienced in darkness.
A big rod rest is the rough weather cod anglers most important friend, for the storms bring weed close in to the beach. Only a high set rod rest with wide spanning legs for extra stability will get both the rod tips high enough to minimise the weed collecting on the line, but also stop the wind blowing the rods and rest over.
A bait at 100yds stands a much better chance of catching a cod than one at 80yds. Casters capable of putting a decent lug bait 130yds will increase their catch rate accordingly.
Good casters can really make their skills shine when the weather is at it's most foul with strong onshore winds. They'll punch a bait 80yds out in to a raging sea and catch cod. Average casters struggle to make 50yds and are fishing baits in the surf tables and wash which carries plenty of weed, but few, if any cod.
Realistically, if you can manage to cast a maximum of 75yds, which is the average cast, concentrate on the deeper steep to beaches and rock gullies where the fish are closer in. Only if you are consistently putting baits over 120yds should you think about fishing the shallower beaches.
Most beachcasters able to throw 5-6ozs will be suitable for normal beach fishing, but if you're serious about codding and aim to fish the worst of the weather and pick more difficult marks for the chance of a bigger fish, then you'll need a fast taper rod with a stiff middle section and almost rigid butt so that you can muscle cod out of the kelp and rocks.
For long range fishing, then ABU 6500's and Daiwa 7HT's loaded with 15lb line, 12lb will do if you really know what you're doing, are the reels to choose, but again these are not tough enough for rock fishing, nor into heavy surfs during gales. Better to choose an ABU 7000C or 9000C, or Daiwa SL30 carrying 20 to 25lb line for the tougher conditions.
The same applies to fixed spool reels. Big capacity models fully loaded to the lip of the spool maximise both winching power and casting performance. The old Mitchell 498 is still hard to beat for sheer ruggedness and reliability, though the larger modern Daiwa's and also the new Zebco Quantum are also good.
The top cod rig is the clipped one hook paternoster. Take 2'6" - 4' of 60lb mo no and tie a 3/0 Mustad oval split ring to the end. Now slide on a bait clip or preferably a Breakaway Impact Shield, now a trace crimp or alternative, then a micro bead, small size 8 swivel, micro bead, crimp, and finally tie in a strong swivel or Mustad Oval split ring at the top.
For rock fishing, stick to the same dimensions, but tie a loop into the base of the rig body to take a weak length of line to the lead which will release the rig if the lead gets snagged, and use a blood loop in the rigs body to take the hook trace. A Mustad oval split ring or similar makes tough, but cheap to lose link between the leader and the rig. Bait clips can be eliminated for this shorter range fishing.
Hook traces need to be about 18ins, so set the crimped swivel to this height. In fast tides, it pays to lengthen the hook trace to as much as 3ft or more. Make the hook trace from 35lb line and choose either a Mustad Viking 79515 4/0 pennel rig, or a single Aberdeen pattern li ke the Mustad 3261BLN or Kamasan B940 for the best results. The Viking is excellent over rock, but the Aberdeen's can suit clean ground better.
The second rig is the long and low. The set up is the same except the swivel is positioned low down just above the first bait clip, and add a second upside down clip below the top swivel. Bring the 3' plus hook length up the trace and over the top inverted clip and then back to the bottom clip to give a long flowing trace at seabed level.
Release wire leads are the best choice for all clean ground codding because as the cod moves away with the bait it is pulled up hard against the anchored lead which helps pull the hook home even before the angler strikes.
Plain leads are best on rough ground, though using long wires of soft wire can help free snagged leads be keeping them out of the cracks in the rocks.
From September through to January lug catches the bulk of shore cod. Use big baits. Several worms to make an 8" length is about right, but bigger will not put even small codling off.
King rag is a good bait in some areas, especially in the north east of England and South Wales, also inside the Menai Straits in North Wales.
During late autumn and again in February and March, fresh peelers from Devon will help you continue catching cod when worm baits start to fail. The last and first of the peelers are just beyond the low water line and the codling prefer these to worm baits at this time.
White rag is another bait that takes fish when they're feeling finicky. These tend to work best fished at long range over clean sand, but use a section of whit rag to tip off a lug bait over rocky ground, too.
Mussel is a good bait fished over rocks, but you need big baits of several mussels all bound up together on to the hook with elastic thread.
After big storms that have disturbed lots of shell fish which are being washing up along the tide line, try a worm bait tipped off with squid or razorfish, even a mussel. Another good one is to use a black lug, with a razorfish down each side whipped on with elastic thread.
Cod are never far from rocky reefs with uplifting rock pinnacles and dense beds of kelp. In fact, even lightly broken ground amongst an otherwise clean seabed will be enough to hold codling tight to this feature. Fish away from it, and you'll catch no cod.
It's the wreck fishing that most anglers will associate with big cod. Both large and small cod use wrecks for protection, though. They work and feed on the seabed tight in behind the wreck using it to deflect the oncoming tide away from themselves. This has the added advantage that the smaller fish getting caught up in the tide run are forced towards the feeding cod with no means of escape.
Choose the bigger tides of the month for most boat fishing situations including uptiding and drifting over cleaner ground. This is when the larger numbers of fish move in to mop up the food being dislodged by the faster tides.
All wrecking and when drift fishing over reefs choose the smaller neap tide periods as the drift of the boat will be slower giving you longer over the fish and makes it easier to keep the bait down in the feeding zone.
Seas settling down after a blow again fish well, but your options are governed more by the safety aspect than picking and choosing the right fishing conditions.
Dull, overcast days, especially when the water is coloured, give good results. Periods of settled weather and clearing seas don't give good cod returns.
The biggest wreck cod tend to take either pirks between 10oz and 1.5lbs, or large mackerel flapper baits intended for ling. Try adding a muppet to the pirks hook, or fishing a muppet above the pirk as a separate lure to create more movement and to cover a wider feeding band. One of the larger Mr twister lures or a Redgill eel is a good alternative to the muppet.
Treating a pirk with the new luminous glow gels w ill also attract cod better than a plain pirk.
Occasionally, cod will take a Redgill fished on a flying collar rig intended for pollack. Try adding a Booby Bead rattle in front of the Redgill and another just above the pirk. Cod home in on noise and this can increase the catch rate.
Drifts over rocky ground tends to suggest that the bulk of the fish will be sub 8lbs in weight. They tend to be closely bunched behind big rocks etc, that break the tide. They only scatter around slack water when they roam around singly to locate food.
Use Hokkai feathers, genuine white cod feathers on 4/0 hooks, or better still, the new Mustad all black feathers baiting these with lug, rag or mussel. You only need lift the rod a couple of feet to give the feathers enough movement for the codling to hit them. On less rough ground, it's enough to let the lea d drag across the bottom without lifting on the rod tip.
CLEANER GROUND AND FAST TIDES
Clean ground and shallowish water up to maybe 75' is ideal for uptiding. Don't cast to your maximum range every time. A shorter or longer cast can put you into, or at the edge of a deeper gutter, on the incline of a bank that the cod patrol, or maybe on to a path of rough that will hold a few cod making a difference to your bag at the end of the day.
Changing the length of the hook trace during the tide can also get you a bigger catch. At low water us a short trace about 2' long. As the tide increases go right up to 8' to add more movement to the bait.
Anglers fishing from the stern position of the boat can consider trotting a big bait well away from the boat. Use a lead that will just move with the tide when you release the line, but at distance this will hold and keep the bait down. This technique with a pennel rig and three big squid as bait is how many 30lb plus cod are taken.
Uptide rods need to be a 4-8oz type with a stiff butt that gives lifting power when you need to pull a fish back against the tide. Many are too through action for this. Look at models from Daiwa, the Leeda 9000 and the new Penn uptider. Match it to a reel like the ABU 7000C or 9000C for the best combination in strength and casting performance.
Downtide tackle in areas of fast tides will need to be 30lb class rod and a 3/0 sized reel carrying 300yds of 30lb line. This tackle will also do nicely for reef fishing with the baited feathers and light pirking, though you may need a slightly larger reel for the latter. Less tide run and you'll get away with a 20lb class outfit.
Wrecking with pirks is down to having a ro d and reel with true lifting power. Go for a 50lb class rod with a fairly stiff action and match it to a 4/0, even a 6/0 Penn Senator or Daiwa Sealine sized reel and 48lb line.
An uptide rig is tied as followed. Take 4' of 50lb mono and use Mustad oval split ring at the base. You can either use a crimp and bead trapped swivel, or tie in a blood loop, both positioned just above the split ring to keep the hook trace tight on the seabed. Add a hook length of 40lb line up to 6' long and use a pennel rig of two 4/0 or 6/0 Mustad Viking 79515's for all worm baits. Hang the bait on the wires of the lead for safer casting.
You can use the same rig, but with a 50lb hook length for downtiding, too.
The baits don't change out at sea. Lug and rag are the baits for uptiding throughout the winter, but try tipping off with razorfish or squid, and also make a cocktail of half lug, half rag.
Worm baits need to be a full 12" long and even these will be snaffled by small codling around a couple of pounds. Some anglers prefer black lug to blow lug, but blow has the edge over gutted black simply because of the extra juice they contain. If you have to use gutted blacks, add a couple of blow at the base to increase the scent factor.
Whole squid, even three whole calamari on pennel rigs is a good bait for downtiding and wrecking when after the post Christmas monsters. More specialised, but very effective is a small whiting or pout fished live. As already stated, specimen cod occasionally take mackerel, but it is not a recognised cod bait.